Glaswegians are unconventional and often disrespectful of power. But can they bring together the disparate pieces of the city’s emerging alternative economy and challenge the status quo?
‘All these planks somehow go together and make a boat. And that boat somehow can hold us, take us all on a voyage. The voyage of a busted-up community to a better future.’ Colin MacLeod
In a forgotten corner of Govan in Glasgow you can glimpse how regeneration could be if it was driven – not by spreadsheets and buildings – but by trust, empathy and strengthening the individual and collective agency of people.
Galgael is a social enterprise set up by Colin Macleod after his failed attempt as leader of the ‘Pollak Free State’ to stop the M77 motorway being constructed through the park in the neighbourhood he grew up in.
Here, in the former shipbuilding capital of the world, men – and some women – who are long-term unemployed, suffering from mental health problems or otherwise battered by life can come to learn the skills needed to build the traditional wooden boats that once sailed on the Clyde.
‘The old ways of doing things – paternalistic, centralised, focused on the
physical and financial – are no longer working for places like Glasgow’
MacLeod learnt his own woodworking craft among native Americans, and Galgael is imbued with the reconnection to land and to native culture that they taught him. When he died in 2005 at the age of 39, many who had railed against him as a protester celebrated his powers as a chieftain and community builder.
We don’t know what MacLeod would have to say about the Clyde Waterfront regeneration plans that are now transforming the city’s riverfront, but a recent report from the Centre for Population Health suggests such regeneration – big and distant from local needs – is doing more harm than good to the people of Glasgow.
History, politics and vulnerability: explaining excess mortality in Scotland and Glasgow is the latest attempt to try to understand why Scotland – and in particular Glasgow – have such high levels of ‘excess mortality’– rates of death that are above and beyond that which can be explained by socio-economic deprivation alone. The so-called ‘Glasgow effect’ is increasing and can be observed across all adult age groups in the country.
The new report suggests that the displacement of people from inner-city neighbourhoods from the 1970s onwards made Glasgow more vulnerable than similar post-industrial cities to poverty and deprivation. The city suffered more than places like Liverpool and Manchester, with larger-scale slum clearances, a greater emphasis on high-rise development and fewer protections for its citizens, the report said.
That the Commonwealth Games, held in the city in 2014, planned to include in its opening ceremony the demolition of the Red Road flats suggests that few of the mistakes of regeneration past have been learned. Typifying public policy of the 70s, the demolition of the Red Road flats was seen as symbolic of the city’s rebirth. But for those living in the neighbourhood, their destruction was seen as another example of regeneration ‘being done to them’.
And the motorways that now criss-cross Glasgow city centre and which Colin MacLeod and other citizens protested about have created a city with poor connectivity and outlying estates cut off from economic opportunities.
Clare Goff is former Editor of New Start magazine